It’s coming up on three decades since Robert Cray broke through the invisible wall separating heartfelt, soulful blues from mainstream success with his Grammy-winning 1986 album Strong Persuader. Although not much has changed in Cray’s approach, that is unquestionably a good thing. His sold-out Monday night show at the Lobero found the guitarist/singer in a quartet that featured longtime bass player Richard Cousins along with relative newcomers Les Falconer on drums and Dover Weinberg on keyboards. The sound was tight, the groove was solid, and the opportunity to hear Cray’s concise, syncopated solos in tandem with his soaring vocals clearly appealed to the audience. Although Cray reached as far back as Strong Persuader for some of his material, it was his more recent work, including tracks from Twenty (2005), This Time (2009), and In My Soul (2014), that had the majority swaying and nodding.
Cray blends the traditional electric blues of such elders as Albert Collins and B.B. King with the soul production values associated with labels like Stax and Hi Records to powerful effect. Whether he’s emoting through a steamy ballad like “Poor Johnny” from Twenty or cutting up on a novelty number like “Chicken in the Kitchen” from This Time, Cray’s voice remains pure and powerful, a reminder of such soul masters as O.V. Wright and Sam Cooke. In what was perhaps the evening’s most unbridled moment of sheer boogie, Cray and the band trotted out a new original that he wrote in tribute to Booker T. as an encore. The song, rather flippantly titled “Hip Tight Onions,” sent the satisfied crowd home with groovy Hammond B3 chords ringing in their ears, making for a most happy soulful holiday celebration.